Deep ruby cubes of ahi tuna glistening with sweet and salty shoyu sauce: This might be the dish that comes to mind when poke is mentioned.
But poke — the Hawaiian term for slice — is so much more.
And several restaurants and bars are serving this healthy, fish-forward dish in the Salt Lake Valley. Some serve predesigned poke choices while others offer build-your-own bowls with various proteins, toppings and dressings.
Several even offer musubi — a Hawaiian invention of grilled Spam on rice, wrapped in nori seaweed.
These new establishments join Laid Back Poke Shack, which opened in Holladay in 2015 and was an immediate hit with its sashimi-quality fish marinated and served deli-style.
Since then, the restaurant has new owners and opened a second location in Lehi. But many of the same high-quality offerings remain, including the chile-marinated oyster tako (octopus), sweet chile shrimp with chunks of mango, and spicy snow crab mixed with Sriracha and mayonnaise.
The poke world in the Salt Lake City area has expanded.
At FreshFin Poke — a new spot on Regent Street in downtown Salt Lake City — a signature spicy tuna bowl ($10.95) is artfully presented with chunks of sustainably caught yellowfin (another name for ahi) tuna, fresh edamame and cucumber. It’s dressed with kicky Sriracha aioli, sweet shoyu and salty tobiko and served on either white or brown rice or mixed greens.
Owner Nate Thompson opened the restaurant, he said, because “our healthy society needs what we have to offer.”
FreshFin also has an “Earn a Bowl, Give a Bowl” program, Thompson said, in which it donates a bowl to the YWCA Utah for every 10 purchased. “We felt it was a great option for the women there to receive these healthy meals from us.”
Ghost Sushi offers Japanese-style poke that’s served with traditional onigiri rice wrapped in seaweed. It was started by Danny Cheng and Dan Homer, the owners of ComCom Kitchen and Market, 67 W. 1700 South, in Salt Lake City.
One of the commissary’s initial tenants was ABS Seafood Utah. ABS supplies fresh fish to sushi spots like Takashi, Tsunami, Shabu and Park City’s Bill White Group.
When the fish shipments arrive on Wednesday and Friday, Ghost Sushi goes to work breaking down fresh salmon and tuna.
The Japanese-style poke bowls (tuna $12.95, salmon $11.95) are ready for lunchtime pickup via the commissary or delivery. Each bowl comes with one or both meaty cuts of fish, delicately pickled cucumbers and onions, and a hand-wrapped onigiri.
Cheng, whose family has been in the restaurant business for several decades, is also experimenting with additional offerings, including onigiri filled with maguro (tuna) and dusted in wasabi furikake with poke sauce.
Orders can be placed online Monday through Saturday with pick up or delivery Wednesday through Saturday.
Several Salt Lake City restaurants also have poke on their regular menus.
Whiskey Street in downtown has offered its sushi-grade yellowfin tuna appetizer ($12) since the bar opened seven years ago. The diced ahi tuna is tossed in a sweet soy ginger sauce and dolloped with wasabi lime aioli, cucumbers, avocado and served with a Japanese salad and crunchy sesame wonton chips.
“Ahi poke has always been a favorite of mine,” said Matt Crandall, director of food and beverage at Bourbon Group. “I wanted to feature it on the Whiskey Street menu to offer guests some lighter options to choose from when dining at a bar.”
In the Avenues, Cucina also has found great success with its ahi tuna poke appetizer ($14), with its layers of mango, avocado and spiked with guajillo chile served with wonton chips.
Whether Hawaiian-style, Japanese-style or fusion-focused, poke is the summer sensation that’s easy to share or eat as a takeout or delivery order.
Heather L. King owns www.slclunches.com and can be found on social media @slclunches.